The Stress Doc, responding to a Small Business Association request for an article,
draws on personal experience and passionate interest. The Doc targets stress for the small
business person with a "how to" concept that blends high performance with high
nurturance. Are you ready to cultivate Natural SPEED?
The Small Business Owner's Guide for "Practicing Safe Stress"
Building Natural SPEED: Part I
Why might the small business owner need a "how to" for "Practicing Safe
Stress"? Consider these two maxims. A surefire formula for stress smoke signals is
chronically grappling with roles and tasks involving: 1) high demand and/or high
responsibility and 2) low autonomy and an ongoing or pervasive feeling of being out of
control. Do I have your attention? The second maxim, the classic definition of the small
business owner, reveals the desire to manipulate the above "demand-control"
stress formula: a person who'd rather work sixteen hours for him- or herself than work
eight hours for someone else.
But for many owners there still aren't enough hours in the day, especially with the
startling emergence and expansion of such technological innovations as cell phones and the
Internet. Customers and clients are potentially anywhere and everywhere...at any time. The
cutting edge small business owner not only competes in a rapidly changing real world, but
must also harness a lightning-paced virtual business environment. There's a heightened
demand for efficient and effective products and service delivery. Simultaneously, there's
an ever-shrinking downtime window as your small business becomes far flung, crossing
ever-greater numbers of time zones. And despite "the shock of the new," the
existential-temporal dilemma remains familiar: "Can there be life after
In such a volatile economic environment how do you manage the inevitable stress without
succumbing to small business burnout? If running a successful small business is more like
running a marathon than a 100-yard race (though sometimes it feels like a barely
interrupted series of dashes) then the key for surviving and thriving is the Stress Doc's
formula for "Natural SPEED." The first segment focuses on Sleep and Priorities.
Part II finishes with Empathy, Exercise and Diet. Let's begin at the end of the day.
Sleep. Don't be cheap with your need for sleep. It's nature's way to ebb and flow and
help you grow. Don't you just hate those glib aphorisms. Actually, if you're like me, you
often stay up too late and wake up too early to get eight hours of sleep. So learning to
take power naps is critical. Even when doing an all day workshop, I'll shorten (not
eliminate) lunchtime for naptime. However, integrating sleeping and napping has its limits
apart from a foundation of biorhythmic awareness and practice. For example, being a
morning person, one year I paid for defying my natural day-night cycle. As a part-time
stress and violence prevention consultant for the US Postal Service, once a week I worked
the 9pm to 5am shift. More than the conflicts on the workfloor, and despite periodic
napping, my mind-body system just never adjusted to those unmerciful hours. Upon
completion of my tour of duty, elevated blood pressure was my Purple Heart.
Priorities. Perhaps the most challenging realization for the small business owner is,
"I can't do it all." And according to a classic efficiency and motivation
principle, you apparently don't have to. The Pareto Principle, derived by an early 20th c.
Italian sociologist, I believe, posits: "80% of our results are produced by 20% of
our activities." What a proposition: you can downgrade the critical status of
four-fifths of your preoccupations without feeling guilty! So focus on your passion and
power and, at least, learn to delegate or collaborate if you don't want to downgrade.
Of course, for delegation to work, effective hiring must be a high priority. As a
president of a New York City/Dallas executive search firm reminded me: "It's critical
to hire the right person and it can be so expensive (financially and emotionally) when you
hire the wrong one
Remember, the hiring decision is based on fit and culture."
The bottom line, of course, is creating a business environment conducive to success.
Not effective hiring, not delegation, nor even the Pareto Principle, negates the reality
that at times successful self-employed individuals or small business owners must hands on
juggle a number of revenue-generating activities. Having multiple income sources is
critical for survival in a competitive climate with uncertain client bases, shifting
consumer preferences and quixotic markets or financial resources.
Multimania: Method or Madness?
While diversity provides security in the face of slow demand in one product or service
line, constantly keeping a number of income-producing balls in motion can be exhausting.
And with a time pressure tempest lurking or swirling, balls may be short-changed or
mishandled; they can be deflated, dropped or, even, blown off course. Non-stop juggling
can turn seeming financial stability into psychological stress. Yet many business owners
can't afford not to get into the act. Welcome to "The Entrepreneurial Catch 22."
Let me illustrate. I'm constantly attempting to orchestrate a mix of organizational
training, conference speaking, stress and team building consulting, a small therapy
practice, running an online and offline support group, and column and article writing.
(Whew! In fact, with all the writing, sometimes I feel I no longer have a life
simply have a memoir.) Still, when one Stress Doc Enterprise ball appears "dead"
or is out of season there are several options. The first involves consciously throwing
away or tossing aside this unproductive ball, taking a breather and, then, giving existing
projects added attention. (For example, my speaking and training business typically slows
from after Thanksgiving to mid-January.) The second scenario requires patience and faith.
Over time, economic forces and business climates change. Some advertising eventually pays
off. After lying fallow, so-called dead balls may be pumped up and put back in play. And
finally, letting go of a ball not only frees up energy for pursuing another ball but this
transition may open up a whole new ballgame or business market. To quote the Nobel
Prize-winning, French author and philosopher, Albert Camus: "Once we have accepted
the fact of loss we understand that the loved one (or loved ball) obstructed a whole
corner of the possible pure now as a sky washed by rain."
Here's a personal illustration of Camus' concept. Two years ago, the painful loss of a
key team building contract because of division politics proved to be the catalyst for
overcoming Internet inertia. Initially tentative about getting online, I now had extra
time and energy for cyberspace exploration beyond cruising the personal ads. Meandering
through an America Online writer's forum resulted in my writing a humor column for an
electronic newsletter. This soon led to the moniker of "Online Psychohumorist"
for AOL's major mental health forum, "Online Psych." And within the year,
in collaboration with an Information Technology colleague, my fledgling website was
featured as a USA Today Online "Hot Site." The website - www.stressdoc.com -
along with my expanding AOL presence (Keyword: Stress Doc) is creating a new revenue
stream (online coaching for entrepreneurs and netrepreneurs) and adding to a steady one by
garnering speaking/training contracts.
And then there are those times when all or most endeavors are simultaneously jumping;
several balls are hot. Help! Where's that Pareto Principle?
Urgency, Familiarity and Simultaneity
Clearly, running a multifaceted enterprise requires both setting priorities and goals
along with flexibly shifting time, energy, focus and resources to vital projects and
urgent requests. Of course, customers and employees will frequently try to convince you
their important needs are really urgent. Remember, urgent gets done now; important gets
prioritized . For a priority system to work, key business players and partners often must
negotiate to overcome turf and territorial instincts -- "My task is most
important," "No, mine is even more critical." It's quite easy for the small
business office to take on the manner and intensity, the loyalties and conflicts of a
family. And sometimes you need an outside consultant to help you and your staff: a) handle
"family" dysfunction and/or b) envision goals, establish consensus and become a
dynamic, "whole is greater than sum of parts" team. (My motto - "Have
Stress? Will Travel: A Smart Mouth for Hire!")
Survival of the fittest requires both individual integrity and interdependent
solidarity. So be wary of that "Multiple & Simultaneous Demand Situation,"
when you are: a) responsible for an increasing number of people and projects, b)
frantically managing an ever expanding base of data, policies and procedures, and c) feel
like a slave to deadlines or tied up by thieves of time. If you are not careful, this
Multiple & Simultaneous (or M & S) Demand Situation can turn around and become an
"S & M" experience: you feel like a "Servant" to too many
"Masters." The bottom line, priority-affirming strategy is "The Stress
Doc's Basic Law of Safe Stress": Do know your limits and don't limit your
And we've reached our limit for this column. Tune in next time for the big finish.
Until then, of course...Practice Safe Stress!
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, the Stress Doc, a psychotherapist and nationally recognized
speaker, trainer, consultant and author, is also known as AOL's and the internet's
"Online Psychohumorist" . Check out his USA Today Online "Hot
Site" website - www.stressdoc.com or <A
HREF="www.stressdoc.com">STRESSDOC HOMEPAGE</A> and his page on
AOL/Online Psych, Keyword: Stress Doc or <A
HREF="aol://4344:972.doc.1264535.556723207">The Stress Doc @ Online Psych
** Catch the Doc's "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on AOL/Digital City, Tuesdays,
9-10:30pm EDT -- <A
HREF="aol://4344:1097.tuechat.25384394.563747919">Tuesday Chats</A> and
<A HREF="aol://4344:363.gorkin.5732839.568857121">Dig City Promo - Stress
** For his free newsletter, Notes from the Online Psychohumorist or for info on
the Stress Doc's Online Coaching program, email firstname.lastname@example.org .